1. Know the symptoms.
Early symptoms are easy to ignore and may include bloating, abdominal pain, feeling full quickly, and frequent urination. Other symptoms include indigestion, nausea, weight gain, shortness of breath, and back pain. If you experience these symptoms for more than seven days, consult a physician and, if appropriate, ask for additional testing to see if your ovaries have abnormalities.
2. Pap tests do not detect ovarian cancer.
Many patients believe that a clean Pap test means that they are clear of ovarian cancer. This is not the case. A Pap test diagnoses cervical disease and is not a tool to diagnose ovarian cancer. No routine screening is available for ovarian cancer.
3. Know the risk factors.
A woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer is about 1 in 78, according to the American Cancer Society. One of the best ways to evaluate your risk is based on your personal and family history. About 20% to 25% of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer have a family history of the disease.
Genetics can play a role. The most significant risk factor for ovarian cancer is an inherited genetic mutation in one of two genes: breast cancer gene 1 (BRCA1) or breast cancer gene 2 (BRCA2). Since these genes are linked to both breast and ovarian cancer, women who have had breast cancer are at an increased risk of ovarian cancer. Uterine, colon, and rectal cancers are also associated with an increased risk of ovarian cancer. To determine if you are at risk of ovarian cancer, you should be evaluated by a board-certified genetic counselor.
Other risk factors include increasing age, obesity, infertility, having children later, and never having a full-term pregnancy.